Ask 10 sailboat owners what is the best anchor and you will get 20 opinions. One, because we are opinionated (because this is important stuff!) and two, because—as is the case with almost everything in boating, it’s a compromise—it’s hard to say which single anchor is “the best” for any purpose, all of the time. But, after extensive research, talking with fellow sailors, and watching videos on holding power, Phillip and I have decided to swap out our primary bow anchor, a 35-lb CQR, with a galvanized 37-lb Sarca Excel No. 4. I wanted to share with you all our extensive research and selection criteria so you could benefit from what we uncovered and share your experience as well with the different anchors you all have used and your experience with them. Here is what we learned and what influenced our decision to go with the Excel.
First, why were we in the market for a new anchor? Age was the only factor. When Phillip and I bought our 1985 Niagara 35, she came with the 35-lb CQR we’ve been hooking on for six years now with never an issue.
In six years of cruising, we have never dragged (that we know of or that was noticeable) and we have never had our CQR fail to set or re-set. We’ve always felt 35 lbs was a good size for our boat and its weight. And, our CQR actually got the test of a lifetime when we dropped it (unknowingly, but quite luckily) just before the wall of wind that hit the Dauphin Island Regatta back in April, 2015. The severity of that storm was unpredicted and instant. While, thankfully, Phillip and I did not get hit with the 70-mph winds that knocked several boats down near Dauphin Island, we did get an unexpected 55-mph on our anchor, with only 125 feet out at the time in Ft. McRee, and our CQR held fast. I captured some footage of that event, well after the worst had passed (we were too consumed with preparing to crank and fight the winds if we did drag to film during the incident). I can assure you, the video does not do it justice, but it’s eerie to watch that footage now and realize 6 people died in those winds that day.
For what she did for us that day and every other day we dropped and lived the good life on our CQR, I felt a reminder of that event and a tribute to her was in order. We are big fans of the CQR model and have no complaints about its performance. It has simply rusted a good deal over time and is showing its age as we did not re-galvanize it over the years. In addition, our CQR pre-dated the newer lead-tip technology that dominates the market these days, so we wanted to take advantage of the technological advances while we were in the market for a new anchor. With that, our research began.
First, Phillip and I made a list of what was important to us in an anchor:
- Holding power (obviously)
- Fast, easy setting
- Reliable re-setting
With 200 lbs of chain already in our bow, we are always trying to reduce weight at the front of the boat, so we wanted an anchor that was, naturally, heavy and strong enough to hold us in all types of terrain and conditions, but one that would do that at the lightest weight possible. While those four items were our core criteria, now, having reviewed many articles and videos on this topic, I imagine we may add three more items to that list: 1) whether the anchor “looks good” on the boat. There is an undeniable aesthetic element to anything you mount on your boat. While we want them to sail across oceans and stand strong in the face of a storm, selfishly, we all still want them to look pretty while they do it.
Don’t all men expect that out of a gal? I distinctly remember in a blog post from yonder, when Phillip and I were preparing for our very first voyage just the two of us on our boat, I wrote:
I was going to throw lines, raise sails and hold the helm with the best of them. Eat salt for breakfast, lunch a dinner. I imagined myself a real sailor.
Of course, I was going to look like this:
While doing all of that. … Totally do-able.
Ahhh … Annie from back in the day. Little Sailor Who Could.
I mention the aesthetics because one of the primary resources we considered when deciding on the Sarca were videos and insight from a fellow sailor who concluded while the Excel “could be the best anchor on the table” he chose not to mount it as his primary bow anchor merely as a result of aesthetics. Many thanks to the Captain Steve Goodwin at s/v Panope for putting together his numerous underwater anchor-performance videos and other helpful content for fellow sailors.
After doing a compilation review of eight anchors (Danforth, Bruce, Super Sarca, Manson, Rocna, Spade, Excel, and Mantus) Steve declined to choose the Excel merely because he did not feel the angular design would look good on his (as he put it) “curvy boat.” Personally Phillip and I were very fond of the angular design of the Excel, so that worked well for us. But, in all of Steve’s underwater testing, he found the Excel performed true-to-form time and time again.
In addition, during his underwater testing, Steve with Sanope also considered and documented whether the anchor pulled up a lot of bottom gunk, dirt, and debris. I don’t believe that crossed mine and Phillip’s minds initially, but the more I watched the videos, I feel that could be a quality of life consideration, as anchors that came up clean would make weighing anchor much easier. And, anchors that shake bottom gunk likely re-set easier.
Steve also did a lot of testing with short scope (not recommended for actual anchoring, merely for test purposes only). While Phillip and I try our best to anchor in places where we have plenty of space to lay out our usual 7:1 ratio, I can imagine the more places we cruise, that may not always be possible considering smaller anchorages with more boats, so during our research this seemed to become a more important factor. Having thoroughly reviewed everything now, I would add the following to our list above:
5. The gunk factor (does it bring up a lot of grass/dirt)
6. Sets well with short scope
And, of course the anchor naturally has to FIT on your bow. I don’t see that as a factor to consider, but more of an upfront-necessity before the anchor can even be considered. Case-in-point: as you all know, we are hard-core Mantus fans and use a variety of their equipment—their snubber, their chain hook, their dinghy anchor, and their portable Scuba pack. Unfortunately, however, the roll-bar models simply will not come up through our bow pulpit, so we cannot use Mantus’s impressive roll-bar style anchor as our primary bow anchor. While Mantus advised me they were working on a bar-less model, it is not available yet, or I am positive Phillip and I would have either: 1) gone with a Mantus based on their reputation and performance reports from fellow-cruisers; 2) or at least had Mantus high in the ranking for consideration. You’ll see our bow configuration was one of the biggest hurdles for us on our Niagara 35 as the layout on our bow eliminated some very promising anchors because they simply would not fit.
But, there are other models that would fit on our bow: a Bruce and likely a Spade, among others. So, why did we choose the Sarca Excel? I’ll show you. One of the primary sources for our decision was a fantastic sailor resource that we discovered during this process that Phillip was adamant I share:
Yannick, the captain we sailed across the Atlantic with initially, back in 2016, recommended this to us. We’d also heard Andy Schell talk about it on his podcast. It is a paid blog membership (only $24 a year and worth it 100 times over) with hundreds of detailed and researched posts written by experienced sailors on dozens of topics relevant to offshore sailors. Think: anchoring, storm survival, battery care, solar power, what to look for in a boat, navigation, you name it. As Yannick explained it (and this rang very true for us): “You know when you put a question on Facebook, and you get all those comments from people who haven’t even tried it. Then you get the two super long, helpful comments from owners who have actually dealt with exactly what you’re dealing with and they know what they’re talking about? Only those people post on AAC.” Done. With that recommendation and everything else positive we had heard about AAC, Phillip signed us up stat and we have not looked back since. But don’t take our word for it:
AAC is a fantastic resource. And, while we were researching anchors, Phillip and I were thrilled to find a long, super-detailed review of the Sarca Excel anchor on AAC. After 46 nights on the Excel anchor in a variety of bottoms, substrates, currents, and wind-shifts, one of AAC’s European Correspondents, Colin, an experienced cruiser, offshore sailor, and Yachtsmen, found the Excel to be well-made, robust and it performed strongly in a variety of substrates while setting fast and digging in effectively. Colin also concluded the Excel held after big wind shifts and on short scope. He and his crew developed “full confidence” in it as a good, all-around primary bow anchor. If you are interested in the Excel anchor and want to learn more, I highly recommend joining AAC and reading Colin’s full article. I cannot share it here as it is proprietary to AAC and well worth the membership to read.
Mentioned in the AAC article were the videos published by s/v Panope. I’m sure many sailors are very grateful to Steve for his thorough and well-documented video of multiple anchor drops where he lets the anchor set, he motors hard in reverse to test the initial dig and also motors the boat in another direction to mimick wind or current shift. Steve drops with varied amounts of scope and documents the anchor’s performance with commentary underwater. If you are in the market for a new anchor, I highly recommend you watch the entirety of his 40-minute video “Anchor Test Compliation” comparing six different anchors (his Excel underwater footage begins at 19:43 and his Excel re-cap at the end at 37:03).
As far as research (and proof) of the actual performance of anchors goes, this video is the best educational piece I’ve seen out there. It is also enlightening and very interesting to watch. Here are some highlights we found from Steve’s documentation of the Excel’s performance underwater:
The Excel dropped and set firmly and quickly every time, often in only about one anchor length.
To mimick a severe wind or current shift, Steve motored the boat at 3,000 RPM over the anchor in a new direction, the Excel re-set within a few anchor lengths and brought the boat to a complete halt.
Steve found the Excel held in sand, rock/sand, mud, and many other substrates.
Also, when Steve reduced the scope, even drastically, all the way down to 2:1 and put 3,000 RPM on the anchor in reverse, the Excel did not budge:
And, a plus, the Excel usually came up from the seabed rather clean! : ) Interestingly, the “Excel” cutout name on the flukes is believed to be designed to encourage the seabed to release and keep the flukes clean for better setting and cleaner anchor weigh. Genius!
Here is the entirety of the videos Steve with s/v Panopeproduced:
- Aluminum Anchor Re-Setting(Excel does make an impressive lighter-weight aluminum version)
Encouraged by the positive AAC review, we also ran into a dock neighbor in Pensacola who is an experienced offshore cruiser who had an Excel anchor on her boat and said she had never had an issue with it. “I drop it; it’s done. It holds every time,” Kim said, which won me over. She told us an “old salt” from Australia first told her about the Excel anchor as they are made in Australia by Anchor Right.
The entirety of our research and considerations led us to believe the Excel would be a great all-around anchor for us on our Niagara 35, the next step was to see if it would even fit on our bow. Ground Tackle Marine, the vendor that carries Sarca Excels and ships to the U.S. included detailed specs on their website for the 37-lb Excel No. 4, which was the one we were considering as it was the closest to our 35-lb CQR. Boat Project Annie got a little crafty with some cardboard and made—to the best of my ability—a cardboard mock-up of the Excel No. 4, so Phillip and I could test it out on the boat.
I’m not sure how well cardboard will hold in winds and current, but we’ll have to try it out someday. ; ) This mock-up proved very helpful, though, as it led us to believe an Excel would pull up nicely through our bow pulpit and ride very well on the bow. I spoke at length with Nick over at Ground Tackle, who was incredibly helpful and patient with my many questions. One of which was his recommendation for the No. 4 for our boat (which weighs approximately 15,000 pounds, 7.5 tons dry, likely closer to 18,000 or 9 tons fully loaded, let’s just guess) when the specs indicated the No. 4 only held up to 7 tons. Nick advised the numbers were intended to be “super conservative” and that if we had been happy on a 35-lb CQR previously, the 37-lb Excel would “set faster and hold stronger every time over a CQR.” Knowing the No. 5 would add an additional unwanted 10 lbs to our bow, that did it for me. “No. 4, please.”
Although Nick did not have a record of selling an Excel to a Niagara 35 owner, after sending him photos of our bow pulpit, Nick was confident the Excel would ride nicely there, but he offered to cover the shipping back if it did not. Nice guy, that Nick. With a price we felt was very fair in light of the performance reviews, Phillip and I pulled the trigger.
And, full disclosure, while Nick kindly offered free shipping, we paid full price for this anchor. It was not given to us for free in exchange for an endorsement.
In just a few business days, our Excel arrived snuggled in carpet, foam, and tape! Our little bundle of joy! : )
We were excited to see if she would pull up through the bow pulpit so we tested her out (being very careful not to drop our shiny new anchor to the bottom of the marina – doh!) on the port side while our CQR was still in its home on the starboard side of the bow, and we were thrilled to find IT FIT!! *Voila* We knew we were about to have a new anchor on Plaintiff’s Rest!
Getting her up on the starboard side, however, Phillip and I knew would be a small chore as the shackle on our old CQR was toast. After twenty however-many years of holding, the shackle and pin had fused together and would not budge. This actually turned out to be a good thing, however, as Phillip and I had been waffling on whether or not to buy a battery-operated portable grinder to make cuts like this, as needed, while cruising. Yannick had one for our Atlantic-crossing and, while the availability of it to cut a fallen rig off to save the boat is comforting, it actually proved handy on several projects we had to undertake during that voyage.
So, now, facing a project that required a grinder, Phillip and I were encouraged to bite the bullet and buy one so we will now have one on-board s/v Plaintiff’s Restduring our future travels in case we ever need it for, let’s just hope, some underway projects, but also for the necessary rigging cut if needed to save the boat. Plus, I had a lot of fun watching the sparks fly as we cut off the old shackle so we could re-attach our 200-feet of chain to the new Excel anchor.
Ain’t she a beauty? I love the way it looks on the bow. A sexy anchor after all!
The angular design looks good on our boat and the Excel cut-out gives it some pizazz! Phillip did some research on shackles and we opted to get two _________ to make the 90-degree turn to connect our chain to the anchor then we were ready to …
We were able to give the Excel one test so far out on the hook recently at Ft. McRee. We put about 100 feet of chain out in ~ 10 feet of water (with our freeboard of roughly 5 feet, that equates to an approximate 7:1 ratio) and revved back harder than we ever had to yank down on the new Excel.
I will say I’ve never felt the boat stop so suddenly. The Excel definitely dug right on in and held fast the entire weekend. Granted, we didn’t have any strong winds, but we did have current shifts, and we never budged on the Excel and enjoyed a stunning weekend on the hook thanks to Sarca.
And, as we saw in the many Sanope videos, the Excel came up nice and clean when we weighed anchor. So far, we are incredibly pleased with our decision to go with the Excel! If any of you have experience with an Excel or would like to share some of your own anchor research, please do so in a comment below! Knowledge is power people. And, sharing is caring. If any of you are considering a new anchor, we hope you found this article helpful.
In the meantime, Phillip and I are excited to start dropping our new Excel in warmer climates. Know that we will be bringing our old CQR with us as a back-up/additional anchor if we need it. We just have to figure out where to put it. I’m thinking the port lazarette, which is a wonderful deep bin of treasures, housing many spares, lines, two anchors, the auto pilot, all the fishing gear, paddles, oars, AND the life raft. I know, right? I love that locker. I’m thinking it will fit there, in the bottom, but that’s on my to-do list! Seeeee? : )
This is our “short list” if you can believe it. Phillip and I are getting pumped about getting back offshore! We will start watching weather windows next week for a good opportunity to start our voyage back south to the Bahamas and beyond.